Knox Pride Festival 2018 is an open celebration of music, entertainment and speakers focused on promoting Equality and Inclusion of ALL people. This year it will be held at the Mary Costa Plaza at the Civic Coliseum lawn in downtown Knoxville on June 23, 2018 from 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm. The Pride Parade is at 11am.
Throughout the afternoon and evening, vendors will have the opportunity to display information about their organization and/or business, sell or handout items of interest and interact with our community to promote inclusion and equality for the LGBTQ+ citizens of Knoxville and surrounding areas!
History of Knox Pride
In the spring of 2006 The Knoxville Human Rights Group (KHRG), now the Tennessee Equality Project- Knox County Committee, first took on the task of organizing an LGBTQ+ Pride Festival in Knoxville, TN. There had been other “Knoxville Pride” organizations with various festivals/events over the years, but none had been able to continue successfully for the long-term.
The East TN LGBTQ+ community desperately needed some stability and an organization that would consistently offer them a voice through visibility. The KHRG had originally been organized to fight the Federal Marriage Amendment in the early 2000’s. It consisted of community leaders and activists, led by M. Todd Cramer, and would come to provide the LGBTQ+ community the consistent voice that they needed through an annual festival known as Knoxville PrideFest.
The purpose of Knoxville PrideFest was to provide a safe, public event where the LGBTQ+ community and its supporters could fellowship in a show of solidarity supporting equal rights for all people. With limited funds and just a handful of volunteers, the first couple of Knoxville PrideFest festivals consisted of 10-25 booths with primarily community groups, supportive churches and a smattering of vendors. The entertainment consisted of a few speakers and a dozen or so primarily local musicians/performers who graciously donated their time and talents. The few hundred attendees that came specifically for the festival were hard to distinguish among the thousands that regularly crowded our home on Market Square in Downtown Knoxville. However, as the word spread of the safe space, welcoming atmosphere, growing crowds and community spirit, the festival quickly became more than any of us could imagine.
By the fall of 2009, the KHRG had put on 4 Knoxville PrideFest festivals, each more successful than the one before. With each successful festival, the enthusiasm grew as did an increase in visibility, attendance and in volunteer participation. The vendors had begun to outnumber the community groups by about 2-to-1 and together totaled over 40 booths. This growth allowed us to kick off several new events that would quickly become annual favorites. We partnered with supportive restaurants for our first Eat Out with Pride (Restaurant Nights, now called Dine Outs), reached out to the artistic/altruistic side of Knoxville with our Heritage Night Art Out in the City (Art Show & Auction) & wowed the crowd with our largest fundraiser the Next to Nothing (Fashion Show & Auction) the brainchild of Committee Members Ernie Hoskins & Tommy Washington.
This increase in fundraising events and vendor participation increased the income to the organization and enabled the KHRG to also begin funding even larger free events such as the Knoxville Pride Parade, taking over the longest running Pride event in Knoxville, the Pride Picnic, and putting out our first Pride Book with community resources, ads for vendors and a schedule of activities, designed by our own graphic artist, Tylor Loposser. We could also finally begin paying for some things that we previously couldn’t, most notably entertainment, much to the delight of our Programming/Entertainment Chair, Kathrine Weeks.
2010, The Birth of ETEC
However, this growth and visibility brought with it increased responsibility, accountability and scrutiny. So, under the guidance of the University of Tennessee School of Law, the Knoxville Human Rights Group (KHRG) went through the steps necessary to file and become an official 501(c)3 foundation, The East Tennessee Equality Council, Inc. (ETEC) in 2010.
Recruiting many of his former KHRG members and volunteers as board members, M. Todd Cramer became the founding President of ETEC and remained so until 2014. Other founding board members were: Dusty Brock, Ben Byers, Sandy Huneycutt, Mark Janes, Carla Lewis, Susan Musser, Bill Mynatt, & Kathrine Weeks.
With a new organizational structure, official tax-free status and a reinvigorated board, Knoxville PrideFest 2011 was set to be the largest East TN had ever seen. The excitement grew as ETEC signed its largest headliner to date, the multiplatinum 80’s pop superstar, Tiffany. The investment and hard work turned out to be good moves as the festival attendance, vendor participation and visibility all set new records for the area with a police estimate topping 13,000 for our first time ever.
The ETEC Board & Committee Chairs had also begun to find their footing and each began to take on more specific roles. Ben Byers took on the organization of the festival itself as Festival Chair, Carla Lewis took over management of the website, Mark Janes spearheaded the growth of the Eat Out with Pride nights, Ernie Hoskins continued with the Next to Nothing Shows & worked w/ Susan Musser as she tackled the growing Art Out in the City event. Hoskins & Musser also team up at every PrideFest behind the always popular PrideFest T-shirt Booth. Susan is proud to have earned the title “T-shirt Queen”, but is still waiting on her crown! Sandy Huneycutt took over the Pride Picnic, Dusty Brock organized the growing Pride Parade & Bill Mynatt took on our newest event, the Night Out with the Smokies Baseball Game. Kathrine Weeks continued with Programming/Entertainment & M. Todd Cramer managed to keep them all working together. ETEC was quickly becoming a well-oiled machine.
For Knoxville PrideFest 2012, ETEC continued building on their success by bringing our community several more firsts for the area. Newly elected Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero not only became the first Mayor in Knoxville to personally address the crowd at Knoxville PrideFest, but she also wrote a welcome letter for the Pride Book and recruited several City Council & other elected officials to walk with her in the Pride Parade. Having just led a unanimous vote to expand the City Employment Non-Discrimination Policy to include their LGBTQ+ employees, she was obviously very well-received. With the growing attendance we needed more room necessitating an expansion into adjacent Krutch Park nearly doubling the space for vendor booths and attendees. This also allowed the addition of a 2nd stage with more entertainment and our first Mass-Commitment Ceremony, headed up by Sandy Huneycutt. Bringing in 80’s and 90’s music superstar, Taylor Dayne, to entertain the crowd was the icing on the proverbial wedding cake that saw 2012 set new records and catapult Knoxville PrideFest to the largest Pride event in the State of Tennessee at a police estimated 17,000 attendees throughout the day.
Despite the expansion in 2012, we had again sold out our vendor space and were busting at the seams of Market Square. Not wanting to turn anyone away, Knoxville PrideFest 2013 saw ETEC’s most ambitious move yet to what is now our current home on the Performance Lawn of World’s Fair Park in Downtown Knoxville. Previously host to the 1982 World’s Fair, we had found a great space, but it was desperately short on amenities. So, 2013 also saw the addition of a rented stage, tents for every vendor, a children’s area, a catered VIP Tent and food & beverage sales. Knowing that our expenses for necessities had increased dramatically and wanting to support our broader LGBTQ+community, we took a new approach for our entertainment for 2013. We chose to hire 4 very different groups, all LGBTQ+, to be co-headliners throughout the day. “The Voice’s” Beverly McClelland, Tony Award winning Levi Kreis, Hip Hop Duo God-Des & She & the NY Electric Rock Group Dangerous Muse rocked the stage with all of their LGBT Pride! These changes were well received again resulting in record attendance and vendor participation. The police estimated attendance over 20,000 for the first year ever.
Looking to build on these successes, Knoxville PrideFest returned to World’s Fair Park for 2014. The format didn’t need to change much, but the festival & supporting events continued to expand. Having grown to over 20 different events including the Art Out in the City (Art Show & Auction), Next to Nothing Fashion Show & Auction, Night Out at the Smokies Ballgame, Interfaith Worship Service, Celebrity Bartending, the Knoxville LGBTQ+ Film Festival, Pride Picnic, Eat OUT with Pride (Restaurant Nights), Pride Parade & the festival itself. Knoxville PrideFest had truly grown to offer a place for everyone with over 25,000 attendees turning out to see the Indigo Girls.
In 2015, after many successful years at the helm of ETEC, Todd felt the time was right to rotate off of the board. Ben Byers was elected as the new President along with executive officers VP Mark Janes, Treasurer Joe Jackson and Secretary Dustin Ewing and new board member Victoria Scott. Pride returned to World’s Fair Park in 2015 to celebrate its 10th anniversary with another extremely successful year. Attendance for the main event was again in excess of 20,000 people and amazing entertainment including headliner Joan Osborne, Billy Gilman and Jessi Lynn.
2016 was a tough year for many in the LGBTQ+ community. Just a few days before Pride was scheduled to begin the horrific shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando rocked many of us to our core. The Board, including new members Sarah-Michelle Miller, Rachel Siegel and Rodney Lynch, needed to decide how to serve a grieving community and ensure that Pride would be a safe and secure space to come together. In consultation with, and intense support of, the City of Knoxville, the Knoxville Police and the Knoxville FBI Field Office it was decided that we could make Pride safe and that the value of having the event was worth the extra effort. The result was one of the most incredible PrideFests so far, we had an enormous turn out from both the LGBTQ+ community and the wider East Tennessee population in a show of amazing solidarity. We honored the victims of the shooting, including banners, keynote addresses, and a reading of names from the stage, and many who where gathered took the opportunity to mourn and find strength from being together and fighting against the fear.
In 2017 faced with increasing growth and the limitations of the World’s Fair Park, the board with help from the City of Knoxville’s 1st LGBTQ+ Liaison, Chip Barry, began investigating the possibility of relocating the event to another venue. After much discussion, deliberation, and pre-planning the decision was made to relocate Pride to the Mary Costa Plaza and Lawn at the Knoxville Coliseum. The challenges that came with that change cannot be under-stated but an amazing amout of work from the board, including new members including Chris Brewer, Jennifer Green, Adam Christopher, Morgan Thompson, and Jordan Sexton, PrideFest rose to the challenge and successfully transitioned to the new venue with performances included Betty Who, Blake Lewis and Tatianna. 2017 was also the inaugural year for a new set of programs under the “Adventures With Pride” banner that encourage outreach and building stronger bonds and community engagement while exploring some of Knoxville’s best local venues, activities, and natural beauty.